NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For most of the pandemic, you may have heard the term "positivity rate" defining how quickly COVID was spreading.
The CDC announced Friday that instead of "positivity rate" -- it's now focusing more on what's happening inside hospitals.
"That's where the most severe infections are, if you're that ill, you have to go to the hospital, and it's also where the strain over the health care system has been so sustained over the last two years," said Dr. William Schaffner with Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The new mask guidance is driven by a combination of three stats: the rate of new COVID cases, the number of new COVID patients in hospitals and the percentage of hospital beds taken up by COVID patients.
Under the CDC's new guidelines, nationwide, more than 7 out of 10 people live in areas of low to medium community COVID levels, meaning they can stop wearing masks in indoor public places.
But most of Tennessee still has high community levels of COVID, meaning the CDC suggests still wearing masks.
But Shaffner says Tennessee's numbers are trending in the right direction.
"We'd like them to go much lower, we'd like them to be more sustained at a low level, but nonetheless I think the country as a whole is moving in the right direction even though we aren't doing it at the same rate," he said.
The CDC issued the new guidance Friday, even as many governors across the country already had dropped mask mandates. But Shaffner says the new guidelines came out of public health science, not political pressure.
"When you operate in the public arena, there's always turmoil and pressure, but I think the CDC is focused on the best advice for the majority of people in the United States," he said.